Friday, 28 April 2017

Their Finest

The film within a film bringing feminist themes into the narrative of war

Written by Jason Solomons

And it’s chocks away, stiff upper lips and hooray for the gals in this chipper wartime comedy drama from An Education director lone Scherfig – to be read out in one’s best pathe News Voice, of course.

Their Finest is a true-ish story, based on Lissa Evans’ book – Their Finest Hour and a Half – about the making of wartime propaganda films (usually 90 minutes, you see) under the command of the Ministry of Information, here lead by Richard E Grant.Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

‘We want authenticity and optimism,’ comes the mandate from Whitehall, a baton picked up by Henry Goodman’s Hungarian émigré movie boss (I sense of mix of Alexander Korda and Michael Balcon here), and passed on to his scriptwriter/producer Buckley, played by that fast-improving British actor Sam Claflin.

He, in turn, enlists the help of Gemma Arterton’s smart, pretty Welsh girl Catrin Cole, whose eye for a story and warm determination comes to the fore – just the sort of pluckiness that helps Britain through the war.

Underneath all the clipped vowels, there lurks a strain of real emotions that sweep the viewer along, nicely played and decorated by beautifully observed little details, such as Gemma’s wartime tailoring (courtesy of costume designer Charlotte Walter). It’s neatly tied-up, like a ration pack.

We cheer on Catrin’s blossoming as she works on glamourising the true-ish story of two sisters who bravely join the flotilla to evacuate Dunkirk, aided and abetted by a drunk uncle.

Said uncle is played by Bill Nighy, as Ambrose Hilliard – a fabulously conceited old actor, whose presence, as ever, gives the film a light touch imbued with forlorn introspection.

Meanwhile, romance develops between the pompous Buckley and the rosy Catrin while she finds her scriptwriting voice, even though she’s only meant to be writing the ‘slop’ – ie, the women’s dialogue. Hers is the film’s central journey, lending a feminist slant to the traditional war film nostalgia. And of course, the point being that with Catrin writing the script, the film within the film gets a female heroine, too.

Meanwhile, Scherfig does a sterling directing job of navigating both the comic business of making the preposterously morale-boosting Dunkirk movie, The Nancy Starling – not helped by the late recruitment of star power in the form of an American air ace – and the wistful, wasteful business of war, with the bombs dropping on London, the nights sheltering at Edgware Road tube station, and the lack of waiters in Soho restaurants. The very real possibility of death hangs over it all.

‘Films are shape, structure and meaning – unlike life – that’s why people love them,’ is the message from the Ministry, and Their Finest duly delivers it with style, wit and sensitivity, and with its own gentle propaganda for our own precarious times.

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